by Kelly Farley
Kelly is a bereaved father that has experienced the loss of his two children over an eighteen month span. He lost his daughter Katie in 2004 and son Noah in 2006.
Courage. It’s a word that paints many different images in our minds. Each one of us has a different picture of what courage looks and feels like. This may change for each one of us based on events we have experienced throughout our life. I want to tell you a little bit about my recent experience and how I, a bereaved dad, view courage.
I was recently a guest workshop presenter for the Bereaved Parents of the USA organizations National Gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was my first presentation on the subject of child loss and how it impacts dads. Although I am not a professional speaker or a professional grief counselor, I believe I am an expert on the subject due to experiencing the loss of two children over 18 months.
I admit I was a little nervous prior to the start of my workshop. However, all of those nervous feelings went away when I observed the dads entering the room. I knew the look on many of their faces and could see the burdens they were carrying.
Their body language said it all: heads hanging a little low, not making much eye contact. Nervous energy and sadness in their eyes. Slightly hesitant about what they were about to get themselves into. However, many of them also had the look of “somebody, please help me.” I know that look, because I wore it before I searched for help.
Not all of the dads who showed up had the look of despair; in fact many of them showed signs of healing. They offered smiles and handshakes to the other dads who sat near them. Although the loss of a child is a wound that will never completely heal, these dads were finding ways to smile and laugh again without the guilt. They were showing a lot of courage by reaching out to the dads who were still stuck and stricken with grief.
All of the guys who attended this workshop appeared to be searching for some sign of semblance to what they themselves were feeling and experiencing. Trying to find some “normalcy” in a not so normal situation.
There is comfort in knowing others are experiencing many of the same emotions and life struggles brought on by the unfortunate circumstance of losing a child. Confirmation you’re not alone or losing their mind. That everything you’re feeling is normal. Even the stuff you are afraid to tell others.
What I witnessed was a large group of dads opening up and telling stories about their loss, their child, their pain. What I witnessed was courage:
- Courage to get out of bed that day: Some of these guys were newly bereaved (under a year) and although this may sound weird to someone who hasn’t lost a child, there are many guys who don’t want to get up and face another day without their child. They don’t want to go out of the house and try to blend back into society.
- Courage to be at this event: To walk into a room of strangers dealing with child loss makes it hard to contain your own emotions. You know the pain the others are feeling. Seeing them is another reminder of what you yourself are dealing with. Although it’s comforting to be around other bereaved parents, it still takes courage.
- Courage to comfort another guy: To be able to reach out and put your hand on another dad’s shoulder or offer him a tissue to wipe away his tears takes a lot of courage for men. Most of us become very uncomfortable when others, especially men, become emotional distraught. What changes this is having someone reach out to you in these moments and provide compassion. Once you are the recipient of such compassion, you understand the power of a touch or someone who just listens.
- Courage to share their story and experiences: It takes a lot of courage for a man to open up in front of a room full of other men. However, that’s exactly what I witnessed from these dads at the workshop. A lot of sharing and a lot of courage.
- Courage to show their tears and all other emotions: We all know that “big boys don’t cry,” right? This is what we are taught as young boys, “to be strong.” One thing they forgot to tell us is this shouldn’t hold true for everything. There is a time and place to be strong: the loss of a child is not one of those times. Thank you to the guys for having the courage to reject the notion that men always have to be strong. This is an impossible feat, especially while you are dealing with the loss of a child.
- Courage to search for others that are traveling on this journey: There is an old adage that says “Misery loves company.” After experiencing the loss of my second child, I knew I couldn’t survive it on my own. I needed to be around others who were on this journey because they “get it.” However, I believe whoever created this adage had it wrong. It should read “Misery needs company.” There is no reason we have to go through this alone. To see these guys searching out other grieving dads is courageous. Not only are they helping others, they are also helping themselves.